Black Mirror is back for a fourth season, and if you think the Emmys love for last season’s “San Junipero”—a tonally jarring episode of the anthology series in that it ends on an uplifting note that will likely cause you to cry tears of joy rather than sadness—would shake up the formula, I’m here to report: This show is still super messed-up. On the whole, Season 4’s six episodes are here to fuel your techno-paranoia in creative and unsettling ways, and that means new futuristic technology, some of which feels a bit too close to becoming a reality.
But which new technological innovation (by my count, eight examples are introduced this season) is the most terrifying? By breaking down Black Mirror’s latest sci-fi breakthroughs into four categories—presentation, deadliness, how it’d ruin society, and how possible it could be in the next five years—we’ll determine what should terrify you the most. Though, really, all of this stuff should. Get off your phone.
8. Future Tinder
Appears in: “Hang the DJ”
The rundown: An advanced dating system that lets an algorithm determine how compatible you are with a romantic partner through a butt-load of simulations. In other words, you’ll know what it really means when someone messages you “heyyy” with three y’s.
Presentation: We see this tech at work from the perspective of one of the dating simulations, so it’s actually quite a lovely meet-cute. The only thing that’s a bit freaky is when you realize that they are in a simulation, and every “person” around them isn’t real. Also, “Hang the DJ” is clearly going for that “San Junipero” nostalgia. 5/10
Deadliness: There’s no cure for a broken heart, but thanks to this simulation, you’ll never have one. 1/10
Would this ruin society? Tricky question. If you already think dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are causing a social apocalypse, this is just stoking the fire. I’m not against any of these apps, but simulating the viability of a relationship is a tad extra. 5/10
Is this possible in the next five years? This is a headline I just read: “Tinder is now picking people it thinks you should Super Like.” 9/10
7. Random Access Memories
Appears in: “Crocodile”
The rundown: A device used by an insurance investigator can access a person’s raw impression of an event and visualize it on a screen. In “Crocodile,” an investigation begins after a self-driving pizza delivery van hits a guy on the street, which eventually leads the investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar) to a woman (Andrea Riseborough) who committed murder on the same night. Unsurprisingly, the murderer will go to some deep, disturbing lengths to keep her crime a secret.
Presentation: It’s rather unintimidating on its own; it requires the investigator to carry around a somewhat clunky monitor for watching the memories. Nothing futuristic seems quite as edgy when you have to fold it up and toss it on the seat of your car. 4/10
Deadliness: Under normal circumstances, it’s doesn’t seem deadly. But if you use it on a person who just killed someone, there’s a high chance they’ll try to kill you, too! 8/10
Would this ruin society? On the contrary, this seems pretty good! Hear me out: Nobody wants to deal with their insurance company, and if you can provide compelling evidence to settle a claim—like, say, YOUR OWN MEMORIES—that would be pretty dope. On the other hand, wow, this woman didn’t want to get caught so badly she—spoiler alert—killed the investigator, used the device to figure out that the investigator told her husband where she was headed, went and killed him, and then killed their baby daughter for good measure. In the wrong hands, this would not be good. 6/10
Is this possible in the next five years? This feels a bit too Minority Report–esque for the next five years. Talk to me in a couple decades. 2/10
6. “Monkey Needs a Hug”
Appears in: “Black Museum”
The rundown: New technology makes it possible to transfer one’s consciousness from entity to entity. In “Black Museum,” a comatose woman’s consciousness is first transferred to her husband. However, when he gets tired of hearing her in his head and wants to move on with another woman, he transfers her consciousness again to a toy monkey.
Presentation: The monkey can say only two things: “Monkey loves you” and “Monkey needs a hug.” It’s seriously creepy. 7/10
Deadliness: There are not lethal consequences here, only existential. The monkey can’t even move. Not very deadly. It is, however, very sad, because the monkey is tossed aside and eventually thrown into a high-tech crime museum—with a woman’s consciousness still inside of it. 1/10
Would this ruin society? Wait, if everyone were toy monkeys that were unable to move and could say only two things? That, specifically, would be very bad. But it’d also be terrible for the natural grieving process: Grandma’s about to croak? Well, just put her consciousness somewhere else and then never obtain closure. And for the dead person, being imprisoned inside an inanimate object sounds way worse than death. 8/10
Is this possible in the next five years?
… Seriously?! 7/10
5. Next-Level VR
Appears in: “USS Callister”
The rundown: People are really into this space VR game called Infinity, run by Jimmi Simpson from Westworld, which makes me believe this is actually a Westworld prequel. It’s a harmless game, but Infinity’s chief technology officer (played by perpetual scary person Jesse Plemons) creates a skin that resembles his favorite sci-fi show—an overt Star Trek pastiche—and uses the DNA of his coworkers to create avatars that man the ship. So they’re like real people. It’s messed up.
Presentation: You get to literally enter this digital world and command a spaceship and, in the regular version, interact with other people commanding other ships. I would play the crap out of this game. Plemons’s version of Infinity is a throwback to Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek set designs. It’s not scary, per se, but it looks awesome. 9/10
Deadliness: Well, if you’re one of the unfortunate souls trapped in the Star Trek version of Infinity, you have little to no free will and Jesse Plemons is your god. At one point he pulls an Agent Smith and removes a subordinate’s mouth (and the rest of her face!) for disobeying an order. It’s not death—it’s arguably worse. 8/10
Would this ruin society? Playing a ton of video games isn’t the end of the world, and most people aren’t going to be trapped in Plemons’s Star Trek hellscape—unless you’re the hapless intern that messes up his coffee order. 2/10
Is this possible in the next five years? Not to this level, but increasingly sophisticated VR could be the final frontier for video games. But let’s maybe not share these video game breakthroughs with Jesse Plemons. 5/10
Appears in: “Black Museum”
The rundown: A device is implanted in a doctor that allows him to feel the symptoms of a patient wearing an accompanying device and diagnose them. What could go wrong?
Presentation: The doctor just has this tiny node under one of his ears. It looks more ridiculous for the patient being diagnosed, since the thing on their head looks like a glowing fishnet. 5/10
Deadliness: So, here’s the twist: A patient dies while the doctor’s diagnosing him, and the doctor experiences death before jolting back to life. So, à la Flatliners, he’s addicted to the sensation of dying and begins mutilating himself before [deep breath] putting the device on a homeless man and tearing into him with a drill while practically having an orgasm. Don’t go near this doctor! 10/10
Would this ruin society? Understandably, this gadget never made it past the trial phase. If it did, we’d have a very specific brand of serial killers that put fishnets on their victims’ heads. 6/10
Is this possible in the next five years? We’re probably a ways away from this becoming reality. But this is a headline I just read that might be scarier: “The Artificially Intelligent Doctor Will Hear You Now.” 3/10
3. Static Shock
Appears in: “Black Museum”
The rundown: An inmate on death row for a grisly murder—that he may or may not have committed—agrees to give away his consciousness to secure a strong financial future for his family. The inmate then becomes the main attraction of a high-tech crime museum, where, in a most disturbing Black Mirror twist, visitors can shock him in an electric chair ad infinitum.
Presentation: I still can’t get the image out of my head. 9/10
Deadliness: Again, this is worse than death, because the creepy museum proprietor (played by Douglas Hodge) makes sure that he’s never killed. Instead, after repeated torture, the man is left in a vegetative state. 9/10
Would this ruin society? I’m happy to report the museum had trouble attracting visitors after a while. There might be hope for us yet. 3/10
Is this possible in the next five years? A crime museum featuring a wrongly convicted man who is tortured for eternity in an electric chair? Technically, this might be possible. Ethically, it definitely isn’t. 5/10
2. The iPad to Monitor Your Child
Appears in: “Arkangel”
The rundown: The titular Arkangel is a surveillance tool you can implant in a child. It allows the parent(s) to check their vitals, go through their memories, censor stuff they’re seeing IRL, and see the world through their eyes via an iPad-esque tablet. Disclaimer: It’s probably not a good idea to peep on a 15-year-old kid.
Presentation: The tablet is unassuming and the features, which are easy to scroll through, are quite reminiscent of an actual app. You almost forget that it’s being used on a child until a parent’s like, “Hmm, guess I could casually scroll through every memory of my kid’s entire existence.” 6/10
Deadliness: In a flash-forward, we learn that Arkangel is banned in the U.S. That doesn’t necessarily make it deadly—its threat level varies on a case-by-case basis—but in the hands of a serious Helicopter Parent, it could have dangerous consequences. 4/10
Would this ruin society? I don’t have kids, but look: Parenting is objectively hard. Most parents have their kids’ best interests in mind, but given the means—like, say, a highly capable surveillance tool—some might shield their children in extreme ways. And then we’d be left with a generation of people who experienced nothing growing up, and who are husks of a human because someone else was in their brain in their most formative years. So yes, this would ruin society. 9/10
Is this possible in the next five years? Uhhhh, it might already be here. 9/10
1. Don’t Trust Boston Dynamics
Appears in: “Metalhead”
The rundown: In a press email, Netflix described this episode as “quite nightmarish.” You’ll understand why: It’s set in a dystopian future where robot dogs, not unlike the ones being made by Boston Dynamics, are ruthlessly murdering humans. Survival is an everyday struggle.
Presentation: SOME BOSTON DYNAMICS–LIKE ROBOT DOGS ARE KILLING HUMANS IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC HELLSCAPE. 10/10
Deadliness: SOME BOSTON DYNAMICS–LIKE ROBOT DOGS ARE KILLING HUMANS IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC HELLSCAPE! 10/10
Would this ruin society? YES. 10/10
Is this possible in the next five years?
So there you have it. Some of Black Mirror Season 4’s futuristic tech inventions could be at our doorstep, and others serve as a cautionary tale for things like parents being too protective of their children. Above all else, Season 4 sent us a very clear message: We need to stop Boston Dynamics at all costs.